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Would Objectivists have discovered America?

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Inspired by the UFO thread ( :( ) :

Let's say we live on a planet with two separate landmasses surrounded by water. Lacking evidence there is no reason to believe that there is another landmass in the uncharted territory. All the shortest sea routes between all harbors on our landmass do not lead near the second landmass (and we know that), so we would have no gain if the uncharted territory turns out to be water-only (except that the territory now is charted, but that's hardly a value, is it?)

Now why would an Objectivist want to explore that uncharted territory except by accident? Wouldn't it be wiser to "exploit" the possibilities we know of?

PS: I've chosen the title to be provocative, I know that it would have discovered because not all of the restrictions above apply to the real earth.

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The enthusiastic explorer has existed for a long time. People who go places others have not simply to observe them, because they value the discovery itself. I assume at some point a fervent exploratory mind would decide to see what could be found, and would reap his just reward.

EDIT: Wording unclear.

Edited by Dr. Radiaki
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I think what Columbus (and Vespucci, Magellan and others) did was exactly what an Objectivist would've done. They went exploring, using boats they had reason to believe would stay afloat, following a direction they had reason to believe would take them to their destination. Sometimes, like Columbus, one can be mistaken. More often than not though, they got it right.

What the equivalent of UFO believers (the Christians) have done on the other hand was accept what was in the Bible, for no reason whatsoever. They were damn near guaranteed to be wrong, because the Bible is an arbitrary claim. Today of course we know for a fact that they were wrong, and we also know for a fact that UFO believers are wrong.

But even if we didn't know that for a fact (we'd be like the people who for the first time in centuries started acting consistently rationally in the Middle Ages, we would know nothing about what causes all those unidentified sights), we could still recognize that this UFOs are aliens claim is a baseless explanation to an unexplained phenomenon, and therefor extremely unlikely to be real.

The equivalent of basing any actions on the assumption that UFOs are aliens is the equivalent of Columbus sitting on the beach in Portugal, and praying to God to fly him to India and back. If he would've kept his mind open to all scenarios, whether supported by reason or just imagination, this would in fact have been the easiest thing to do: why risk dozens of men's lives on a perilous journey, when it is possible that God could simply teleport you there?

The equivalent of doing what Columbus actually did is what NASA is doing today. I just wish they could do it better, motivated by profit and the ambition of individuals rather than political will or the lack thereof.

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The whole reason anyone bothered to explore at all was that there was alot of missing area that was completely unknown. I'm not sure but I think it was known about what the circumference of the earth was, in fact the greeks had many guesses. (some were close to being right) Columbus sailed knowing either he would find previously unknown land/India, Indonesia, or a eastern passage to India. Whatever it was, even then they knew that the greater the risk in a business venture, the greater the reward. Extremely large fortunes aren't made by being ultra-timid and conservative.

Yeah. =>

Edited by th3ranger
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One of the basic elements of Capitalism is risk-taking. If one Objectivist was making decent money on the mainland but knew that nobody else had ever explored the "uncharted" area before, and that there was possibly a multitude of wealth to be had out there, someone would eventually come along and decide to take that risk for their own personal gain (or loss, if it turns out there is nothing). It's like, horses work fine but eventually somebody decided to spend their time and resources making the buggies run on a different kind of fuel, and since he was right about it he became a very rich and important man. If Capitalism can create the Automobile I'm sure it could discover America too.

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I'm not sure but I think it was known about what the circumference of the earth was, in fact the greeks had many guesses. (some were close to being right)

Eratosthenes didn't "guess," he used a thoroughly valid method. He had two different errors in measurement that (as it happened) cancelled each other out almost perfectly, and his answer was almost dead-nuts on.

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Others have pointed out the spirit of adventure and enthusiasm, so I wont rehash those.

Lacking evidence there is no reason to believe that there is another landmass in the uncharted territory.

The content of flotsam would be evidence. Eventually, plant species (and occasionally animal species on natural rafts) not locally found will wash up on local shores and prompt people to start awonderin'.

Another source of evidence is migration patterns of sea animals and birds known for long haul trips. Are they just heading out to the middle of nowhere, or is there another destination they are en route for? Some wading birds, for example, are heading in yonder direction, but surely they don't have enough fuel for a return trip if there's nowhere else to wade except here? And what the devil are they all doing out there anyway? These sorts of questions will be asked in due time.

Another again would be simple geology. People would realise that there's no inherent reason for the land to be bunched up all in one place, that landmasses rise and fall, and so on. So, the reasoning may go, since we don't know what's out there maybe it's worth a look to find out? More complex geology could make the questions stronger, and would certainly be impetus to explore if only to advance the science and knowledge of the world.

(except that the territory now is charted, but that's hardly a value, is it?)

Now why would an Objectivist want to explore that uncharted territory except by accident? Wouldn't it be wiser to "exploit" the possibilities we know of?

Purely from a technical and financial perspective, you're overlooking a numer of points, each alone would do the job (ie make us want to know what's out there).

First up, the use of the oceans themselves. As the population on our known continent expands, pressure on the existing sea-fishing grounds will grow. That will prompt fishermen to move further out to sea to find new fishing grounds - and do so well before the current ones are fully exploited precisely so that they don't become so in the pursuit of food. Fishermen will want to know what's there, map the currents and what sort of fish are to be found in various regions and at what time of year, and so on. A related point is that when fishermen go missing there are always others who want to go out there and see where their friends and loved ones went. All it will take in some instances is for search parties to get motivated is hints of rumours of other potential land, such as the questions arising from the strange material found in the flotsam.

Another is the value of the land beneath the waves. Does a certain flammable black goo ring any bells? There is no doubt that even the most unenthusiastic and hardnosed of beancounters would give their approval to exploration projects ever further out to sea eventually, and that's before sources closer to home start running out. Sooner or later even without reference to satellite technology, the whole of the world - including the ocean floors - most definitely would have been explored for the oil and gas content alone were this world populated exclusively by Objectivists.

A third is the value of the knowledge other than for the use of the land or ocean floors for their material content. As people grow more sophisticated they will want to understand weather patterns better. They will in due time come to understand that there are reasons for climate patterns, such as the effects of ocean currents and other land masses. There will thus be more and more impetus to go find out detail so that the understanding and predictability of the weather can be improved. Everyone would be interested in that to some degree, but the insurance industry would play a somewhat major role here all by itself, both in relation to land users and also for fishing and other shipping.

This latter one on weather also goes back to the issue of evidence: in a lock-step fashion, new understanding of weather patterns will prompt new questions to ask of available data on the weather and influences on weather, such as ocean currents; they will suggest, for instance, that maybe there's something out there. One example is whether the poles are frozen or not. I recall a TV program that said the reason why the poles have frozen in the last several million years or so is because of the rise of central America (around Panama etc) blocking the ocean currents that previously made the flows of warm equatorial water to the polar regions much stronger than they are today. Prior to the rise of Panama, the continents of North and South America were separate and ocean water flowed freely from the Pacific to the Atlantic between them.

I'm sure others could add heaps more, but I don't think it's necessary. There is no doubt: even among a population exclusively of completely rational and level-headed people, exploration is inevitable and discovery only a matter of time. It will start as someone's "I wonder," but as sophisitication grows the desire to know will be felt by increasing numbers until finally there's enough will and money to make it happen.


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Ok, thank you for your answers :wub: I think my error was that I had the thought in my mind that when there is no evidence for something than that can't be of any value. But, in the case of for example a landmass, one could argue that if there is one landmass then there is a probability that there is another one, or geological reasons that McVey mentioned.

I guess exploration would be much broader without government directed "projects". Maybe there would have been a hotel in the orbit before the first man landed on the moon ;)

An exploration could also be a "test of reality", i.e. to see what is possible, what man is able to do. If we are able to fly to the moon then we are able to do anything.

I guess sports also could fall into this category.

@John McVey:

Yes, there is all sorts of evidence. Sooner or later someone will start a satellite into the orbit and one would know for sure. The question is more about the "when" and if there is a value in it before you obtain such evidence.

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The question is more about the "when" and if there is a value in it before you obtain such evidence.

Yes, I thought it might be something like that, but at the time I didn't really know how to word it properly - my thoughts were something along the lines of why someone would want to explore without a measurable economic reason. For that there is just what others have said: someone with money to spend and a thirst to know taking action when finally the technology required or resources available have progressed such that there's an identifiable chance of surviving a failed attempt, however slim that chance might be.

Exploration is not unique in the part about pure thirst for knowledge as a driver, ahead of economic benefit. Many of the sciences started out like that, as something pursued by the Gentleman Scientist et al (including equivalents thereof in ancient times) prior to the industrial age making science & technology vividly a source of potential profit, and undertaken purely because these people had the money and leisure time to satisfy their curiosity. Now it is people working for R&D units because they like it, and are getting someone else to stump up the money and equipment in exchange for earning profits out of any usable discoveries. What drives them in both cases - the Gentleman (and Lady) Scientist and the modern science professional - is the pursuit and discovery itself rather than the economic reward, although certainly the money is quite welcome! I've run across many Objectivists in the sciences express that sentiment, and now that I think on it Quentin Daniels in AS (as well as Galt himself) was like that too:

Under her questioning, he explained that he did not like any of the scientific foundations left in existence, that he would have liked a job in the research laboratory of some big industrial concern—"But which one of them can afford to undertake any long-range work nowadays, and why should they?" - so when the Utah Institute of Technology was closed for lack of funds, he had remained there as night watchman and sole inhabitant of the place; the salary was sufficient to pay for his needs—and the Institute's laboratory was there, intact, for his own private, undisturbed use.

"So you're doing research work of your own?"

"That's right."

"For what purpose?"

"For my own pleasure."

"What do you intend to do, if you discover something of scientific importance or commercial value? Do you intend to put it to some public use?"

"I don't know. I don't think so."

"Haven't you any desire to be of service to humanity?"

"I don't talk that kind of language, Miss Taggart. I don't think you do, either."

She laughed. "I think we'll get along together, you and I."

"We will."

While economically we may call such action consumption, that is what production is actually for and has no reason to be undertaken without aiming for consumption. It just so happens that the consumption in question has lasting benefit and helps fuel further production. It's the benefit that's the accident, not the discovery.


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Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision

Obviously my favorite Ayn Rand quote.

I don't know what a self-defined Objectivist would have done, would do. But I know that the founder of Objectivist, did just that: she discovered a new continent, risking everything with everything to lose.

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The discovery of America arose from a dispute concerning the size of the Earth. Columbus believed an erroneous figure, which gave Earth a smaller circumference, and which therefore meant you could more quickly reach the Far East by sailing West from Europe. Had he believed the correct figure, he wouldn't have attempted his voyage.

But at close to the same time the Portuguese were involving themselves in Africa. They sailed south and west from Portugal, then turned east to Africa. Som of these coyages sailed far enough west that they caught glimpses of the Brazilian coast. Eventually some POrtuguese captain would have discovered the continent anyway.

And long before Columbus, some vikings actually discovered Greenland and the Eastern coast of Canada. They even attempted settlements there. I've no idea what they were looking for.

The history of science and exploration is full of people who have found something while looking for something else (not to mention rife with lucky mistakes). Roentgen was studying the phosphoresence in certain chemicals when he accidentally discovered X-rays. A simple project to measure the spin of galaxies yielded the possibility of Dark Matter.

Finally, even if people are too stubborn to sail around the world, eventually they will launch satellites and will inevitably discover what's on the hemisphere they've neglected to visit.

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